You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2015.

Once again, the annual two-day archaeology-fest that is the CA Live! Conference organised by Current Archaeology magazine and sponsored by the Institute of Classical Studies is rapidly approaching. Held on February 27th and 28th in the stately setting of University of London’s Senate House, this year’s timetable looks as exciting as ever, and as in recent years, the Heritage Journal will be there again to live Tweet the proceedings.


This year’s conference kicks off with a session looking at Anglo-Saxon Settlements, with contributions from Neil Faulkner, Andrew Reynolds and Helena Hamerow.

The World Archaeology session, sponsored by sister magazine Current World Archaeology, features Brian Fagan talking on ‘Tutankhamun and Lord Carnarvon’, Richard Hodges on ‘Rome’s Great Treasures’ and Ian Hodder with ‘Neolithic Çatalhöyük‘.

There is then a session Rescuing the Past, with Neil Holbrook, Ann Crone and Roger Bland, before the keynote speaker, Martin Biddle. This is followed by the now traditional drinks reception and Current Archaeology Awards ceremony. All winners will be decided by a readers’ vote – nominations for the four categories can be viewed on the Current Archaeology web site and you can cast your vote in each category there too.

The conference continues on the Saturday with our favourite session In Search of the Prehistoric, chaired by Julian Richards. Talks include Chris Stringer describing the work at Happisburgh, David Jaques on Blick Mead, and Jim Leary – ‘Silbury Hill and massive monuments’

A session on Boats in Archaeology then follows, with Karl Brady on ‘The Lough Corrib logboats’, Robert Van de Noort ‘Building Morgawr’ and Mark Jones ‘Conserving the Mary Rose’ taking us to the lunch break.

Finally, a session on Roman Frontier Life follows, chaired by David Breeze. Lidsay Allason-Jones tells us about Housesteads and Matthew Symonds explains the Passage aAcross the Frontier.  Finally the conference concludes with a talk on ‘The Imperial War Museum and WW1’ by Paul Cornish.

There are some pretty enticing topics, and as usual, something for everyone no matter which particular period of the past piques your interest! And don’t forget the marketplace, with stalls selling publications, courses, tours and other items of interest

Tickets are going fast, so don’t forget to reserve yours as soon as possible! If you’re there, why not come up and say Hello!

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into many stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Brent Fore Hill double stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.


The double stone alignment situated on the south west facing slope of Brent Fore Hill forms part of a discrete cluster of prehistoric funerary monuments including a long cairn and large numbers of round cairns. The stone alignment itself includes a double row of stones leading downslope for 120m from a kerbed cairn at SX 66843 61367. Walking upslope along this alignment a remarkable “reveal” is experienced. The view from the bottom of the alignment is very restricted but as one walks uphill a view eastwards towards South Devon and the sea emerges as if from the ground as the cairn at the top is approached.  From the cairn two sea triangles are visible of which the northern one is “closed” by the coast of Dorset in the background. When first revealed the southern sea triangle is split into two by a small hill in the distance but at the top of the alignment the two triangles merge.


Many stones within this alignment are hidden beneath gorse bushes.


The view from the lower end of the alignment is very restricted. The line denotes the approximate position of the alignment.


63m from the top of the alignment there is still no view of the sea.


45m from the top of the alignment a pair of sea triangles appear from behind the brow of the hill. A small hill in the far distance separates the triangles from each other.


As one proceeds up the hill the triangles grow in size.


Just as one reaches the cairn at the top of the alignment the pair of sea triangles on the right merge into one and a second triangle appears on the left. The second triangle is of the “closed variety”. The top of a closed sea triangle is formed by land rather than the sky and in this case the Jurassic Coast provides the closure.

The transition from restricted views to extensive ones incorporating specific types of sea view is now being recognised as common-place amongst the Dartmoor alignments. Obviously this feature is not shared by all alignments and there are many with no views to the sea at all. Variation in form is a recognised characteristic of the alignments and it would therefore be surprising if all of them shared an identical topographic setting. This said, a case is certainly building to support the idea that many alignments were designed to channel people along a specific route where significant changes in the appearance of the landscape could be observed and perhaps celebrated.  This is most obviously manifested with the sea triangles but other significant features in the landscape could have been signified in this way. The crucial aspect appears to be that the “waymarked route” was designed to provide at least one “reveal”.

Profile Analysis

An examination of cross-sectional profiles from the alignment to the sea allows the arcs of inter-visibility to be plotted onto a map. The juxtaposition of the hills in the middle distance block other views to the sea and thereby create the small clearly defined triangles of visible sea.

BFH ProfMap

This map shows the maximum arcs of visibility from the cairn at the top of the Brent Fore Hill stone alignment. Arc A is visible only from the top of the alignment and is closed by the Jurassic Coast. Arc B is the first one to come into sight and evolves from a pair of conjoined triangles into a single much larger one when viewed from the top.

BFH Prof1

Cross-sectional profile along the centre of the arc of visibility “A”. This indicates that the nearest visible sea is around 32km from Brent Fore Hill with the coast of Dorset beyond.

BFH Prof2

Cross-sectional profile along the centre of the arc of visibility “B”. This indicates that the nearest visible sea is around 28km from Brent Fore Hill.

Previous articles in this series:

The Finds Liaison Officer at Lenborough (see yesterday) has said: “Archaeological people have criticised me for digging it there and then but there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight. Would there have been anybody to come and help?”

We beg to differ. A lot.

Large vehicles can be parked over find spots. Security firms can be hired to work nights, including at Xmas. People who are going to be holding their hand out for hundreds of thousands of life-changing pounds from the public could provide or pay for the necessary security. Couldn’t they. What sort of entitlement-obsessed person wouldn’t?

It’s time PAS dropped its damaging insistence that staff say nothing to upset detectorists.


No Way 4.

No way 3.

No Way 2.

"There was no way we could guard that hoard overnight"

“There was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


by Nigel Swift

Medway History Finders: "couldn't contact an archie, might have been stolen if left overnite, so ...."

Medway History Finders: “couldn’t contact an archie, might have been stolen if left overnite, so ….”


It makes no sense when you think about it. In Britain unqualified people who seek out and find hoards (which have the legal status of national treasure) are then perfectly free (along with any amateur bystanders) to dig it up as fast and as badly as they wish, destroying the knowledge surrounding it.


Weekend Wanderers at Lenborough: just one archaeologist there. A number of entirely unqualified people piled in to "help". Out before nightfall ....

Weekend Wanderers at Lenborough: just one archaeologist there. A number of entirely unqualified people piled in to “help”. Out before nightfall ….


PAS hasn’t said but we can guess that the above debacle was not what the FLO would have preferred. On the contrary, at some point it must have become clear to her that the task was far bigger than first thought and ought to be halted until a professional team could be assembled. But around her were a lot of excitable people many of whom wouldn’t know a moral dilemma from a mozzarella, insisting it must be dug out immediately as overnight protection was impossible and nighthawks might get it. So she felt she had to carry on, fearing that if she stopped that some of them would dig it up anyway, (as hundreds of detectorists have previously) in a still more damaging fashion.

So that’s my guess. I think the FLO was a victim of circumstances and deserves sympathy. Of course it should have been postponed and of course overnight security could have been arranged but there was no legal requirement she could cite. The fault lies with the legal system. We get the archaeological losses the law allows. Sorry to be “elitist” about detectorists but this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened at a gathering of amateur archaeologists – fact! The “voluntary” nature of Britain’s portable antiquities policy was based on the assumption that the two groups were broadly interchangeable. That has turned out to be a damaging mistake. All that remains is an admission.

Who’ll bite the bullet?



Lendorough, halfway through: "Hmmm, maybe we've got to a stage where we should cover it and ensure it's guarded until a team of archies can be assembled, so it can be done properly?" ..... "Hardly, mate! We're artefact hunters not conservationists or amateur archaeologists so we need to pretend there's an urgent need to get it out now and that no damage will be caused by so doing. "

Lenborough philosophical discourse, halfway through:  Hmmm, maybe we’ve got to a stage where we should cover it and ensure it’s guarded until a team of archies can be assembled, so it can be done properly?
….. “Hardly, mate! We’re artefact hunters not conservationists or amateur archaeologists so we need to pretend there’s an urgent need to get it out now and that no damage will be caused by so doing. “



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Mr Grindley

Mr Grindley


Did you know Mr Grindley, the humble farmer worn down and ruined by the endless Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Bleak House, was from Shropshire? Re-reading it reminded me of Oswestry Hill Fort, another battle that may not end in a hurry, not so long as there’s money to be gained. Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the book. Any resemblance to Oswestry is just in your mind….


“In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good…… Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go right……

“Have you nearly concluded your argument?”
“Mlud, no — variety of points — feel it my duty tsubmit — ludship,” is the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.
“Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?” says the Chancellor with a slight smile.
Eighteen of Mr. Tangle’s learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.
“We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight,” says the Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs, a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will come to a settlement one of these days.”

The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative “My lord!” but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously vanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue bags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off by clerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents; the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has committed and all the misery it has caused could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre — why so much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce [and Oswestry!]


What a circus to settle something that ought to be blindingly obvious: there should be no housing development inside the setting of Oswestry Hillfort!

Archaeological site identification is not an exact science. Differences in opinion are common and often consensus can be elusive. As our understanding improves some earlier interpretations are seen as ridiculous whilst others are enhanced. The Ordnance Survey surveyors working on Dartmoor towards the end of the 19th century were well aware of the presence of stone rows and duly recorded and labelled them on their maps as stone rows or avenues. However when they reached the Erme Valley and  encountered the 3.3km line of stones leading from SX 63512 64443 to SX 63662 67797 they concluded that it could not be a stone row – because, well it was a whole lot longer than any of the others they had seen. So despite the fact that it terminated in a fine kerbed cairn they chose instead to describe it as a “stone trackway”. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Cadw consider the great length of the Bancbryn stone alignment to be a major reason for doubting its prehistoric credentials. Perhaps one day they too will concede that a line of stones (no matter how long) leading from a cairn is very likely to be a prehistoric stone alignment. Time will tell.


Although originally considered to be a trackway by Victorian surveyors this line of stones in the Upper Erme Valley is now accepted as a stone alignment.

To: The Archaeology Forum

Dear Sirs,

It’s 4 years since we first wrote to you about the threat posed by the new deep-seeking metal detectors (with 24″+ depth range despite most plough soils being 9″). Any news on that? We hear there are now loads of them out there.

But this message is about something else. As you’ll be aware, despite many years of outreach the great majority of hoards are still being dug up hurriedly and damagingly. It seems to us that the problem could be solved pretty easily. Currently finders are entreated to leave the excavation to archaeologists and the following threat is made in The Treasure Act 1966 Code of Practice (2nd Revision) :


treasure act.

So it warns that if you deliberately or recklessly cause damage you’ll get less reward. Trouble is, it’s an empty threat as finders very frequently say the archaeologists couldn’t attend straight away so they had to hastily dig it up themselves as otherwise “nighthawks would have got it”. Thus they  can persuade themselves, the coroner and the Treasure Valuation Panel that they “did the right thing” and therefore no reduction in their reward is warranted.

However it’s not the right thing. For several years we and Paul Barford have pointed out the obvious fact that there are numerous simple things finders could and should do to ensure finds are protected, including mounting guard, hiring a security firm and parking a heavy farm implement over the findspot. It seems to us they could be persuaded to adopt one or more such precautions by a very simple addition to the Code of Practice:


treasure act2.

We think those 13 words would suddenly boost the level of “responsibility” and preserve much knowledge that’s currently being lost. Still more persuasion is all very well but it’s clear the low hanging fruit have long been plucked. In any case, in matters of morality a potential kick in the pocket always works best so would you please forward this email to the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group?

Many Thanks,

The Heritage Journal


Update 5 Jan 2015

This idea isn’t going down too well chez detectorists. “Historyman” (yes, that’s what I thought!) reckons: “The holier than thou brigade should provide this if they think it is so badly needed.”


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


by Nigel Swift

Len hoard

There are a couple of deeply, deeply depressing things being said about the above, a FLO participating in a too-hurried (and therefore damaging) dig-out of the Lenborough Hoard and I don’t disagree with them.

1. Daniel Pett of PAS:
“There’s too much idealistic archaeological comment on this. PAS staff are at the sharp end.”
Fair enough Dan. No doubt the FLO wanted the digging to stop and no doubt there was a lot of ignorant pressure on her not to. Maybe she thought if she didn’t, they’d go ahead anyway, in an even more damaging fashion. Understandable. But why, why, why Dan has PAS spent 17 years outreaching yet there are still loads of uninformed selfish people out there constantly wrecking such contexts and you still haven’t told the Government something more than talking is needed?

2. Dr Gabe Moshenska ‏characterises critics thus:
“its basically “Your working class hobby is spoiling our middle class hobby!”
Yes, Gabe, we confess that is indeed our attitude!! Our middle class hobby (and I had only an outside loo up the garden all my childhood – did you?) is conserving knowledge and we’re against knowledge being needlessly destroyed for lack of best practice. How the blue blazes are we wrong? (We’re also against that working class hobby of wild bird egg collecting. What about you? Are you a bit middle class about that but a bit working class about metal detecting?)

So it’s very depressing. So long as Dan and Gabe keep talking like they do, those detectorists who don’t want to co-operate with Best Practice can rest very, very secure that they won’t have to. Tomorrow we’ll offer a simple measure that would end the worst abuses in a trice. Will Dan and Gabe pop over to say “Yay, we’ll support that proposal 100%!” We’ll see.



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



It is announced that in Shrewsbury the last home of war poet Wilfred Owen is to be given Grade II listed status by English Heritage. His first home, in Oswestry, was given Grade II listed status by English Heritage two years ago. Meanwhile Oswestry Hillfort and its setting, where he completed his military training, may shortly be thrown to the wolves.


[Oswestry Hillfort is “a site of great national importance, one that helps to define our national story and identity– English Heritage].


1. English Heritage (or whatever they’ll be calling themselves this year):
“At Stonehenge we’ll be more of a statutory heritage champion and less of a Tory election agent”.

2 and 3. National Trust:
“At Stonehenge, we’ll do what we say is our mission, not what someone in Whitehall says they’d like us to do”.
“We’ll finally admit that letting people brandalise or sloganise monuments is always a bad idea”.

4 and 5. Portable Antiquities Scheme:
“We’ll simply tell the truth to artefact hunters, farmers and the public”.
“We’ll lobby the Government to make this spiffing update the last.”

6 and 7. Landowners:
Like with sheep and spuds, we’ll let nothing off our farms without us seeing it (and knowing its value).
We’ll keep in mind every archaeological find needs reporting (whatever any non-archaeologist says).”

8. Academics and the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage:
“We’ll finally admit that not telling a landowner about a significant find (and therefore being unable to report it) DOES conform to our definition of “heritage crime” and is just as damaging as nighthawking”.

9. Shropshire Council:
At Oswestry, we’ll  listen to informed opinion and ask ourselves every morning “who benefits from ignoring it?”

10 and 11. Cadw:
1. “We will try to be consistent, unbiased and professional.”
2. “We will try much harder to protect archaeology.”

12. Archaeologists:
“We’ll fret less about community archaeology and more about the community’s archaeology”


January 2015

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